As I Walk Through the Valley
“We planned on a short movie,” Otto said, “ten minutes or so. Then we got so excited once we started talking about the plot and characters. There was no way it couldn’t be a feature at that point.”
Otto, who directed their independent movie, ‘Through the Valley’, had been in the works of writing the story since she was 16, years before her coffee shop conversation with Brendan Eason even took place.
The two are close friends with a passion for storytelling and how it can translate to a work of film art. They have each done their individual projects, but this one inspired them to tag-team and put it to the big screen. The film follows the main character, Asher, a man with a complicated past, and how he lives and fights during a time of war in a United States different from the one we live in today. The title is in reference to Psalm 23:4, a verse in the Holy Bible.
“It was a story we knew we wanted to tell,” said producer Eason, “but we were on a shoestring budget.” As the producer, Eason paid for the entire film out of his own pocket without any outside support. Because of this, their budget for the film was low.
“The film cost me a little over $8,000,” Eason said, “but that’s a very rough estimate, there were certain expenses that weren’t accounted for.” Most Hollywood and even some independent films have budgets of millions of dollars with investor support, but for two small filmmakers, they had to re-examine the cost out of their own pocket, and how they could tell a story well without such an extravagant allowance.
“We had a heart to heart about six months into some low-key pre-production,” Otto said, “we realized we might not be able to handle the scale of everything, but it was three weeks before our fragile film schedule was in place.”
The two of them huddled together and decided that their passion to tell their story was stronger than financial restriction. They would find a way to tell it, and in order to be realistic about the cost of the film; they would rewrite the script to be more feasible.
“It was kind of a do or die moment for the film,” Eason said, “We knew the smart thing would be not to do it and wait until we had the resources to do so, or we would have to restructure it.”
So they rewrote the entire script before filming. In three weeks. After a long day of work at their day jobs, they would sit down for the rest of the night a rewrite the story. For three weeks straight. Like it was no big deal.
It was difficult, but once they had met their cast, it became much easier for Otto and Eason to write dialogue for their characters.
“There was no drama on set,” Otto said of the cast, “everyone had a passion to be there, it was totally a family.” The cast consisted of friends that Otto and Eason had previously worked with, as well as a few people who showed up to auditions out of curiosity who quickly became apart of the family. Eason himself, and Otto’s younger sister, Faith, played the two main characters.
It was a project that came from friendship and love for the story, and with overwhelming odds against it, that may have been the main reason the film got as far as it did. Nobody was paid except in experience, and yet everyone felt encouraged to work 14-hour days on their weekends for the film.
The cast excitedly became part of the crew too, as many different people ran sound and the secondary camera. Gradually, more people became involved with the film, and the roles of those before, expanded.
“There were so many God moments,” Otto and Eason said of the film, who are both strong Christians, “it was insane. That was the center of it, I think. There were a lot of tears and a lot of praying.”
“For every unexpected drawback and hardship,” Eason explained, “there were several incidents we knew we were blessed because of just someone walking through the door and helping us out. Kourtny and I have both had projects that have just died. But this one, it did happen, and we both feel like it did for a reason.”
As a film that follows redemption, Otto and Eason wanted it to be relatable and therapeutic for their audience. However, the film also served as a form of therapy for the two as well during the difficult times it brought on.
“It helped me get through hard times in my life since then,” said Otto, who has recently tattooed the film’s title on her forearm as a reminder.
“It’s not a story with a moral,” Eason explained, “it’s not that kind of film, we wanted it to be real, like someone’s real life.”
While the story does not have a specific message, the process the cast and crew went through to tell such a heartfelt and personal story demonstrates a moral of itself: perseverance and passion. Those involved with the film had such a love for the story and the characters that even under overwhelming odds, the film was able to triumph over adversity.
‘Through the Valley’ is wrapping up post-production and editing, and is scheduled to be finished in December of this year.
As they sit in that familiar coffee shop, producer Brendan Eason and director Kourtny Otto both smile and cringe as they recount their experiences with the movie. However, the two are proud and encourage others to do the same and tell a story that’s close to your heart.
“We made the totally illogical choice,” said Eason with excitement, “and we knew if it didn’t work, we would’ve gone down fighting. But we had to do it, and we did it, and we want others to know they can too.”